When it was announced that the Big Ten would split into two six-team conferences in 2011, the big point of discussion with Michigan and Ohio State fans was how the conference would treat their biggest rivalry.
If they were put in the same division, they would still play each other in the final weekend every year, but never in the championship game. Instead, Michigan was placed in the Legends Division and Ohio State in the Leaders, meaning they would still play each other in the final weekend and potentially again in the Big Ten Championship game.
Well, neither made it to the inaugural 2011 Big Ten Championship, and with Ohio State’s ineligible status and Nebraska winning the Legends Division in 2012, it did not happen again.
However, with the arrival of Rutgers and Maryland in 2014, this is the final season that the two rivals will be in separate divisions and will potentially play each other in back-to-back weeks. So, can 2013 be the first and only time Michigan and Ohio State duke it out twice?
Big Ten onlookers are already anointing Ohio State the winner of the Leaders Division, despite the fact that Big Ten play doesn’t begin for almost two months. On paper, the Buckeyes are far and away the best team in the Big Ten, and are ranked no. 2 in the country according to the coach’s poll.
Their only real challenger is Wisconsin, who has won the Big Ten in the past two seasons, but whose offense looks very questionable heading into 2013. Ohio State winning the Leaders Division seems like a very likely result, barring injury to Braxton Miller or another handful of arrests and suspensions.
Michigan, on the other hand, will have a tough fight if they are going to win the Legends Division. Both Nebraska and Northwestern will challenge them for the division, with in-state rival Michigan State being a potential surprise team. If I had to pick today, I would say Michigan are the favorites, partially because they host defending division winners Nebraska at the Big House this year.
Michigan has a young offensive line, a first-year starting quarterback in Devin Gardner and are missing their best defensive player in Jake Ryan, but still have a very good shot at getting to Indianapolis.
After this year, barring yet another conference realignment, Michigan and Ohio State will never be able to clash twice in the same season. There is a real possibility that when “The Game” rolls around, we will already know that the rivals will also be having a rematch the following week.
This could set up some intrigue as to how the coaches handle a game that is meaningless in terms of winning the Big Ten, but very important to both fan bases and both schools because of the history and emphasis placed on the game.
Still, all of these possibilities are four months away, and both teams have 11 games to play first before they can even worry about each other. Nonetheless, Michigan-Ohio State in consecutive weekends could be special.
You can follow Alex Dale on Twitter @alexdaleCFB.